One plaintiff in the lawsuit against West Virginia’s ban on transgender women and girls from playing sports will be able to run track this year thanks to a federal court order.
The court order for preliminary injunction prevents the defendants, including the West Virginia State Board Of Education, from enforcing the ban on the plaintiff, the 11-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson, stating that “she will be permitted to sign up for and participate in school athletics in the same way as her girl classmates.”
“A federal district judge just blocked the government from enforcing a cruel, unconstitutional law that would have prevented our client, Becky, from participating in school sports this year,” announced the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of West Virginia on social media. “This is a big win for Becky and for West Virginia kids! Becky is an amazing kid who deserves the same opportunities as every girl her age.”
Delegate Caleb Hanna was the lead sponsor for the bill, co-sponsored by Greenbrier County Delegate Todd Longanacre, with yes votes from Delegate Barry Bruce, Senator Jack Woodrum, and finally signed by Gov. Jim Justice on April 10.
Since then, the ACLU of West Virginia sued the state to have the law repealed on civil rights grounds. In a 2020 Supreme Court case, a 6-3 majority opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch found both sexual orientation and gender identity to be protected by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
“It is clearly in the public interest to uphold B.P.J.’s constitutional right to not be treated any differently than her similarly situated peers because any harm to B.P.J.’s personal rights is a harm to the share of American rights that we all hold collectively,” said District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin. “The right not to be discriminated against by the government belongs to all of us in equal measure. It is that communal and shared ownership of freedom that makes up the American ideal. The American ideal is one that ‘never has been yet and yet must be – the land where every man is free.’ Let America be America Again, Langston Hughes. Plaintiff B.P.J.’s Motion for a Preliminary Injunction is GRANTED.”
The opening paragraphs of the court order could also hint at the future of the case overall.
“The matter before me today is a motion to preliminarily enjoin a recently passed state law,” Goodwin wrote. “Those standing in opposition to this law assert that it was enacted to incite fear and exclude certain persons rather than to address a legitimate government interest. At this point, I have been provided with scant evidence that this law addresses any problem at all, let alone an important problem. When the government distinguishes between different groups of people, those distinctions must be supported by compelling reasons. … Plaintiff has a likelihood of success in demonstrating that this statute is unconstitutional as it applies to her and that it violates Title IX.”
Recently, the Department of Justice issued an opinion for the case, advising the court “of its view that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment do not permit West Virginia to categorically exclude transgender girls from participating in single-sex sports restricted to girls.”
Meanwhile, the plaintiff in the ACLU’s lawsuit just wants to be a prepubescent kid but is instead is submitting her medical treatment and life to the scrutiny of the state of West Virginia and federal judges. Goodwin noted Pepper-Jackson “writes in depth about her history – revealing publicly what are inherently private details – to educate both the court and public. … As part of treating her gender dysphoria, B.P.J. has been on puberty delaying drugs for over a year. As a result, B.P.J. has not undergone and will not undergo endogenous puberty, the process that most young boys undergo that creates the physical advantages warned about by the State. B.P.J. has provided evidence that any physical advantages that men and boys enjoy are derived from higher concentrations of circulating testosterone.”
“I just want to run, I come from a family of runners,” said Pepper-Jackson. “I know how hurtful a law like this is to all kids like me who just want to play sports with their classmates, and I’m doing this for them. Trans kids deserve better.”